“Nothing is currently more important to the Merchant Venturers than seeing Bristol’s education system become one associated with high levels of progress and achievement…”  – Chris Curling, Chairman of the Venturers’ Trust Committee


The Venturers’ Trust


The Venturers’ Trust is an umbrella trust set up to provide further opportunities for our schools and other prospective schools and pupils in the greater Bristol area.


Merchants’ Schools

For many years the Society of Merchant Venturers’ (SMV’s) contribution to local education focused on two schools, Colston’s School (Upper and Lower) and Colston’s Girls’ School.

The decision to sponsor one of the first academies in Bristol through the conversion of Withywood Community School into Merchants’ Academy in 2008 was a watershed for SMV, changing the course and ambition for its involvement in local education. An initial capital commitment of £2million was made by SMV for the new academy and since then we have continued to provide significant additional ongoing support to all aspects of academy life. In addition, and as co-sponsor, the University of Bristol also invests a considerable amount of time and energy in providing support to the academy, its pupils and staff.

A further transformational decision by SMV was to make Colston’s Girls’ School an academy, also in 2008. Significantly overscribed, Colston’s Girls’ School has become one of the nation’s most successful academies, with its pupil numbers increasing from under 400 to over 800 and achieving the best GCSE results for a non-selective school in the South West.

The next step has been to expand SMV’s involvement in Primary education, taking into the fold six more Primary schools. First came Gay Elms in Withywood, which joined Merchants’ Academy making it an all-through school. Then, as part of CGS Trust, came The Dolphin School and St Anne’s Primary School (renamed The Kingfisher School). In 2015, Fairlawn Primary School opened its doors to new pupils, Bannerman Road Community Academy also joined the Trust, and most recently, in 2016, we welcomed Barton Hill Academy.

In addition, SMV is immensely proud of its continuing close association with Colston’s School in Stapleton. Now over 300-years-old, it is a successful independent school that provides a broadly-based and rich education to over 700 pupils from 3-18.

The latest addition to the SMV family of schools is Venturers’ Academy, which opened in September 2016 and will grow over two years to cater for 84 children aged from 4-16.

As the first state-funded school in Bristol for students on the autistic spectrum, Venturers’ Academy is in a unique position to establish a centre of excellence which brings together exceptional teaching staff and a brand new state of the art building (due to be completed in September 2018).

The new building will be co-located on the same site as Merchants’ Academy, enabling students to benefit from additional resources, wider opportunities and the opportunity to integrate seamlessly with the mainstream school, where appropriate.

The Society of Merchant Venturers’ Roots in Education

SMV has been involved in education in Bristol for at least 400 years — archival records show that the Society was running a school for the children of mariners as early as 1595. This grew into the Bristol Trade School in the 18th century, which subsequently became the Merchant Venturers’ School and later the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College.

When Bristol University was granted its Charter in 1909 the engineering department of the Technical College became the University’s Faculty of Engineering. Meanwhile, the Technical College became Bristol Polytechnic, the precursor of the University of the West of England.

In 1708 Edward Colston founded Colston’s School and endowed it, appointing the Society of Merchant Venturers as managers of the endowment.

In 1891 Colston’s Girls’ School was created under the auspices of the same foundation. One hundred years later in 1991 Colston’s School became co-educational through its merger with the Collegiate School, Winterbourne.

SMV’s commitment to see a step change in the quality of secondary education in Bristol is reflected in its more recent involvement in supporting the maintained sector. This culminated in the formation of The Venturers’ Trust in 2015 which has enhanced the opportunities for its member schools, whilst also providing an umbrella organisation for other schools to join.